ECB Publishing, Inc.
The dispute between Clerk of Court Kirk Reams and the Jefferson County Commission over his legal fees came to a close last week.
It happened on Thursday evening, June 6, when the commission voted 4-1 to accept the settlement agreement proposed by its outside litigation team – Attorneys J. David Marsey and Kayla E. Platt Rady, of the law firm of Rumberger, Kirk and Caldwell in Tallahassee. Commission Chairwoman Betsy Barfield's was the lone vote.
Marsey, in his brief recital to the board of the dispute's history, touched on the key points of Reams' criminal and civil cases, beginning with the latter's arrest in October 2017 for petit theft, his immediate suspension from office by the governor, his acquittal of the charge by a jury in January 2018 and his reinstatement to office in December 2018, after he sued the governor and Florida Senate and a federal judge ruled in his favor.
Marsey noted that the commissioners had obtained independent opinions from two the county accept a negotiated settlement of $88,500. Which amount, he said, constituted full settlement of all claims and would result in dismissal of the lawsuit within 10 days of payment.
“Plaintiffs will also execute a general release of all claims, which will ensure no additional claims can be brought against the county arising from Clerk Reams' suspension and reinstatement, including but not limited to back pay,” Marsey said.
He reminded the board that the plaintiffs' original demand, with the prejudgement interest, exceeded $130,000.
“This recommended settlement reflects a discount of nearly $50,000 from the mount of attorney fees and prejudgment interest originally sought and would save the county approximately $40,000 in defense costs and fees that would be incurred if the case were to be litigated,” Marsey said.
No sooner did Marsey conclude his presentation than commissioners moved to approve the settlement, absent any discussion.
Reams and his attorney, David Collins, of the Collins Law Firm in Monticello, sued the commission several months ago when the latter declined to pay for Reams' legal fees and court costs, which Collins argued Reams was entitled to receive by law. When the argument failed to move the commissioners, Collins told them that interest would apply for each day that the payment was delayed.
The commission subsequently sought the advice of outside counsel, as the county's two paid attorneys claimed to have a conflict of interest in terms of Reams. When the first outside attorney found that the county was likely liable for the reimbursement, the commission sought another legal opinion, all the while that the interest accrued and the legal fees for outside counsel mounted. So that in addition to the $88,500 must be added the fees expended for the outside attorneys.
The settlement ends nearly six months of legal wrangling between Reams and the board on a matter that had its start in October 2017, when Reams was arrested on a charge of petit theft for allowing his then girlfriend to use a county-owned laptop for her personal use without authorization.
Following the arrest, Gov. Rick Scott suspended Reams from office. In January 2018, a six-member jury exonerated Reams of the petit-theft charge. Still, the governor and Florida Senate refused to hold a hearing either to reinstate or remove him from office permanently.
Reams sued Scott and the senate president in federal court in March 2018, arguing that he was been denied due process. A federal judge agreed, and in late December 2018, Scott signed an order reinstating Reams. Since then, Reams has been trying to get the county to pay his legal fees.